The Kanmangafuchi Abyss and the Uncountable Monks of Tochigi
The one thing I really love about Nikko is the city’s strong preservation of its history. The architecture of the city certainly makes you feel as if you’ve stepped back hundreds of years into Edo era Japan. Nikko is home to some of the most famous Shinto and Buddhist sights in Japan. And unlike many other cities around Japan, most of Nikko’s religious sites remain standing with little restoration efforts. One such place is the Kanmangafuchi-Abyss. A hidden gorge in central Nikko that’s well worth a visit.
The Kanmangafuchi- Abyss (憾満ヶ淵周辺) is a gorge that was formed from an eruption from Mt. Nantai along the Daiya River. The gorge, located in central Nikko, is known not only as an area for a nice stroll through its beautiful scenery but also, as a sacred spot. Inside the gorge there are rows of stone statue Buddhist monks called Bake-Jizou (化け地蔵). Bake (BAH-ke) meaning ghost or apparition and Jizou (GEE-zou) meaning Ksitigarbha, a Buddhist monk who is the patron guardian of children as well as the protector of lost souls and travelers. It’s very common to see Jizou statues in many areas, especially along roadsides or mountain bases. Most of the time the Jizou are seen with red cloth tied around their necks and a cap on their head. In Japanese folklore, the color red is used to expel demons and diseases.
Unfortunately, due to natural erosion and flooding some of the statues have been worn away, but many are still standing today. These statues have also been called the “uncountable monks”. It’s rumored that no matter how many times you count them, you will always come up with a different number. The official count number of the statues seems to be seventy but looking at them from different spots, it seems like there are many more. Several waterfalls feed into the Kanmanga River while the Jizou are lined along the river.
There are several ways to access the gorge. Many visitors take the path from the JR and Tobu Nikko stations. Take the Tobu bus for 310円 bound for either Chuzenjiko Onsen or Yumoto Onsen and get off at the Tamozawa bus stop. From there it is a ten-minute walk through a residential area. You can also walk there in 30 minutes from the JR or Tobu stations. The last option is to take the four hour climb through Mt. Nantai or Mt. Nakimushi. Both mountain trails feed directly into the gorge, and it’s a lovely place to visit at the end of a long hike.
Although this spot is a bit out of the way to get to, after all you do have to walk through a residential area. However, I highly suggest taking at least thirty minutes to walk through this area. It gives off a quiet, serene vibe that makes you feel completely relaxed. And who knows, maybe you’ll pick up some good blessings while you’re there.